Meat to Order

biofabricating meat

Earlier this year, a paper in the journal Tissue Engineering caused a media stir. It was the first peer-reviewed paper to discuss the industrial production of ‘cultured meat’ — meat grown in a lab or factory.

The paper proved two things:

1) The fastest way to a journalist’s heart (and thus into the headlines) is through his stomach.
2) Some academic journals have really strange names. This one sounds like it could also be called Kleenex® Construction.

The process for culturing meat would work like this: First, take some cells from a farm animal and put them in a nutrient-rich medium to multiply. After that, have them calculate pi, so that there’s something for dessert.

Okay, seriously, when there are enough cells, they would be attached to a scaffold and soaked in nutrients again. The resulting tissue would be mechanically stretched (exercised) to increase its size and protein content, and then harvested. After being seasoned and cooked, it would be consumed as boneless processed meat, like in sausages or chicken nuggets.

I know what you’re thinking: Ick! The whole idea of growing meat in vats just seems strange; you’re not sure if you could eat artificially produced meat. You’d much rather stick to real food, like Cheese Whiz, Twinkies and Pringles.

The thing is though, growing meat this way definitely has some advantages. You could engineer the meat to be leaner, or to contain healthier fats overall. You wouldn’t have the same requirements for drugs and growth hormones. A more controlled environment means less risk for things like mad cow disease. And most importantly, we wouldn’t have to clunk Bessie over the head to get a decent hamburger.

Don’t get me wrong — I’m very fond of steak, especially when it’s medium-rare and accompanied by a merlot. But it is sometimes hard to reconcile the fact that something cute had to croak so that I can eat, especially since I didn’t grow up on a farm.

Indeed, one of the crueler anachronisms of our time is the fact that, although most of us are urbanites, the first images we present to our children are cartoon barnyard animals. My husband is attempting to immunize our child against the day she makes the connection to what’s on her plate by teaching her the phrase, “There’s good eating on one of those.”

At some point though, it would be nice not to have to kill whole, sentient beings in order to eat; so we’re just going to have to get past those gooey-things-in-Petri-dishes scenes Hollywood has planted in our heads.

We’re also going to have to relax a bit more about genetically modified foods. We’ve been genetically altering things for centuries — for proof, take a look at a St. Bernard and a Chihuahua. And those cattle that we munch on today are not the same animals we started with when we all lived along the Nile in Egypt. (Which is just as well, because while I like my beef well-aged, that would be a bit much.) In the past, we did our engineering through cross-breeding and lots of trial and error. Modern methods just mean we’re learning how to be more precise.

If the ick factor is still getting to you, consider this: It’s probably not the science that bothers you. You are probably more worried about the human factors; those in charge getting it wrong, or not always having your best interests at heart. Well, you can relax a bit about that too — technology is moving quickly enough that very shortly after we perfect the methods for culturing meat, you’ll be able to do it yourself at home.

I only hope it’s not printer-based technology. If it is, I may find myself starving by the light of a PC LOAD LETTER error message.

14 Signs You Are An Entrepreneur

 

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  1. You always work the statutory holidays because it’s quiet at the office and you can get sh*t done.
  2. You get ridiculously excited by terms like automate, replicate, and scale.
  3. You catch yourself trying to apply those terms to chores at home, and sometimes even to your kids.
  4. You hope no one ever invents a Breathalyzer for caffeine because you would blow over the limit. By 8 a.m.
  5. You work 12 hours a day for yourself so that you don’t have to work eight hours a day for someone else.
  6. You actually like public transportation because it means you don’t have to waste time driving when you could be getting sh*t done.
  7. You keep a journal, not to record your thoughts and feelings, but to brain dump all your ideas for businesses and processes – otherwise you would never get to sleep.
  8. You are a connoisseur of calendar and to-do list apps, to the point where you have even dedicated an hour to designing the ultimate version.
  9. You say you have ADHD like it’s a good thing.
  10. At least once in your life, you have configured your sales invoice emails or your paid download alerts to play a cha-ching! sound when they come in.
  11. You are a sucker for any headline that uses the words improve or productivity because you are still hoping science has come up with a way to cram 48 hours into a single day.
  12. Your kids know that they have to call your name at least three times to get you to look up from your smart phone.
  13. You haven’t watched real time television in at least a decade. If you watch a TV series at all, you prefer to wait until you hear that it ends well so you know it is worth the time investment. Then you rent the DVDs.
  14. You really, really like getting sh*t done.

Do Not Try This At Home

My work-at-home days do not look like this. (Photo credit: Bill Bradford via Wikimedia Commons)
My work-at-home days do not look like this. (Photo credit: Bill Bradford via Wikimedia Commons)

I have detected a bit of envy in people when I tell them I can work from home from time to time. This might be because I live in Canada, and generally a commute in January, in Canada, can be rough.

And clearly I don’t need to commute. No, I roll out of bed some time around noon, pull on my warm and fuzzy housecoat and my favourite pair of bunny slippers, and cruise downstairs. There, I help myself to a fresh croissant, some hot coffee, and I retrieve the morning newspaper from the front step. With the sunlight streaming in the living room window, I peruse the day’s news and enjoy my breakfast.

After that, a nice sudsy bubble bath gets me ready for the day. I reach my desk around 3 p.m., put in a good three, maybe four hours work before I’m tapped out. A late, but gourmet dinner, and an evening reading by the fireplace ends my day.

Bahahahaha! No.

My work at home day actually starts when I am jolted awake by my toddler, who has decided, at 6 a.m., to shout “EVERYBODY DANCE NOW!” indicating that she’s had enough of this lollygagging about. (C+C Music Factory has a *lot* to answer for.) Since she doesn’t come equipped with a snooze button, my response is to pull a pillow over my head; my husband staggergrumbles his way to the shower. I’d say I can’t wait for my daughter to get past this phase, except that I know that her next trick will be to sneak out of bed and tip her entire box of Lego out onto a hardwood floor.

At 5:30 a.m.

I know this, because we’ve got three other children, and tipped out Lego boxes have been the least of it over the years.

Anyway, then it’s my turn for a shower, while my husband looks after the nappy change, the PJ change, the tooth brushing and breakfast. We got into this routine when our first born was just a tiny baby; I believe we do this because I was the one up all night doing feedings, and it was only fair my shift ended at 6 a.m. My husband believes we do it this way because I’m not a morning person, and left to my own devices, I’d end up getting one of my kid’s teddy bears ready for the day and not know the difference.

After a breakfast of cold cereal and lukewarm tea, I grab my laptop to try and cram in as much work as I can do in an hour — the amount of time it takes to run one episode Sesame Street. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve answered queries from Southeast Asia to the sound of Cookie Monster chowing down on the letter of the day. Fortunately, my toddler is not easily distracted and I know I can count on her not to come over to my laptop and *SIHSM S BW E#(UG(DGPSS DG

My husband and I will spend the rest of the day fielding telephone calls and emails in between teddy bear picnics, homeschool lessons, house cleaning, mid-morning snacks, train games, lunch, colouring books, house cleaning, mid-afternoon snacks, walks to the park, dinner, and the all-Dr.Seuss-hour.

PHONE RINGS

ME: Hello, Chandra speaking, how may I help you?
CLIENT: Yes I’d like to enquire about…
ME: No, that’s not yellow, sweetie, that’s red. Red crayon.
CLIENT: Pardon?
ME: Sorry, you were saying?
CLIENT: Yes, I’m interested in purchasing your…
ME: Don’t touch that!
CLIENT: I’m sorry??
ME: No, no, not you… carry on please! You want to purchase…?
CLIENT: Yes, that really expensive service you have, I’d like to buy that and…
ME: No! Get away from the phone or I’ll— beeeeeeeeep.
ME: Hello? Hello are you there?

Eight p.m. is bedtime — for the kids. For us it’s the start of our second shift, where we catch up on all the things we weren’t able to get done during the day. If we’re lucky, we’ll crawl into bed sometime around 2 a.m.

Don’t get me wrong — we deliberately set it up so we could work from home when necessary. I have to admit to enjoying a good laugh every time I wake up to snow, smug in the knowledge that I don’t have to scrape the car and take a snow-blower to the driveway just to get to the office.

It’s just… some days the idea of getting *out* to an office does have a certain appeal.

Perhaps if we installed a water cooler, just there. I’m sure we could count on our toddler not to…

Never mind.